|The MGA With An Attitude
Significant "UPGRADES" For Reasonable Cost - CF-200
On 12/15/2010, Steven Mallory wrote:
"I am completely open to suggestions regarding suspension and performance upgrades, especially if there are simpler things one can do within reason".
Ah, this is jolly good fun, as I have been living on the cheap since buying my first MGA at age 19. The very first items on the wish list are a 3/4-inch front anti-sway bar and modern radial tires. If it doesn't drive and handle well, nothing else matters.
My 4-wheel drum brakes work fine for 99% of all driving, so I have never had any urge to change that hardware. It is not a safety issue, and only performance oriented for serious competition.
Once I had tweaked my engine up to about 100 BHP, the change to 3.91 final drive was appreciated. It slows the engine down 10%, and cost was about 2% of price of a 5-speed or overdrive conversion.
The 20 pound flywheel is also cheap (about $50 used), from either late model MGA MK-II or early MGB 3-main-bearing engine. That perks up throttle response noticeably, especially in the lower gears.
MGB clutch is optional, perhaps a slight benefit, also requiring early MGB gearbox front cover and release arm. I wouldn't toss out a good MGA clutch just to spend the money, but if you need a new pressure plate it is a good time to consider swapping everything at once.
The Crane Cam is kind of fun. I avoided it for many years while I was running in Stock class with SCCA. Folks used to ask why I didn't put a cam in it, and the pat answer was, I never ran out of good used cams. About the time I couldn't buy race tires any more, I also ran out of good used cams. The Crane cam was on special sale from Moss for $35 more than a stock cam, so it seemed like a good time to try it. After I bought into the project I discovered it needed a change of cam timing. Then I had to figure out how to do that without buying the $200 vernier cam sprocket, and also figure out how to cut valve clearance eyebrows in the block without disassembling it for machine shop service. Interesting learning curve there. I also installed the short tappets and long pushrods from 18V engine to lighten up the valve train, Just for kicks, also alloy caps for the valve springs (not actually needed), but the heavy duty valve springs were needed. After all this I can tape over the tachometer and rev it until it won't run any faster, all with reckless abandon. It sill won't burn off a Honda Civic in a straight line, but will definitely beat one around an autocross course.
Single 12-volt battery conversion was a no-brainer as an economic move. Coolant recover bottle was cheap and easy, and no more guessing how much fluid is in the radiator. Radiator fan shroud is a blessing for hot weather stop and stop traffic conditions. Conversion of the 1500 turn signal relay box to modern relays was $10 and an hour fiddling (well, maybe two hours, but still cheaper than a replacement unit). Functional 4-way flashers cost another $10 and an hour of fiddling. My headlight upgrade was a pair of $9 halogen sealed beam bulbs from K-mart, and all is right with night cruising on dark country roads. Speedometer and Tachometer got 10-watt halogen illumination bulbs (from LBCarCo) so I can read the instruments in the dark.
The intermittent wiper module was a free barter in exchange for writing the installation instructions for the bloke who sells them. I have mixed emotions about all the extra wires involved with that one, but so far it still works, and I do drive in the rain, so I'm happy it's there. A few $0.99 aquarium check valves made a nice improvement for the windscreen washer pump. Change to the $42 electronic fuel pump ($27 in 1989) was a good move, never look back. Timing cover with rubber seal comes from late MGA 1600-MK-II or early MGB, cheap as a used part. Rubber seal for front of gearbox is an easy conversion with cheap used parts. Upgraded radiator core was a toss up. If I ever do it again I will pay the extra $$$ to install an original type cell core.
Halogen bulbs for tail lights and brake lights rub me the wrong way. Makes it look like brake lights are always stuck on, and not enough contrast when the brake lights do come on. One guy who put halogen bulbs in the front parking lamps melted the plastic lenses. Now you can get LED tail lights for a reasonable price (not particularly cheap). I haven't seen them in person yet, but they look okay in the ads and videos. If anything they may be too bright, but not obnoxious, and different appearance from original lighting. I very much like the $10 LED tail light assemblies (from Harbor Freight) in my luggage trailer for a few good reasons, but that's a separate issue from the car.
Third brake light on the MGA may seem like a good idea, but I have never been rear ended in the MGA for more than a quarter million miles of driving, while most modern cars I drive have been tapped in the rear at least once (sometimes hard). I suspect it is largely due to a casual way of driving the MGA with defensive driving and without hitting the brakes too hard. Perhaps also that it does not run expressways in rush hour every day. One of the best safety features of the MGA is the feeling of being naked on the road like riding a motorcycle in shorts, t-shirt, sneakers and no helmet. The light bumpers and thin doors do a lot toward keeping the driver alert. This may protect the passengers better than all the crash cages and air bags in the world. I have no fear at all for driving between two semis or in front of a large sport-ute. I do fear the soccer mom on the cell phone. As a result, the air horns were a welcome swap in place of the sweet sounding dual windtones. I only use the horn about once a year, so be sure it will always work when called upon.
I can heartily recommend full cockpit carpet padding and the Under Dash Pad to insulate the upper bulkhead and heater shelf. These items do wonders for summer heat relief and winter warming, but you have to pay attention to plugging all holes in the bulkhead, and holes in inside walls at windscreen mounting bolts.